Warner Bros. Animation has given fans both new and old a hyperactive crossover adventure that makes up in laughs what it lacks in depth.
In many ways, this movie’s title, Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans, epitomizes the fan debate that has raged for years regarding these two superhero shows. Although they both feature the same core cast of characters and voice actors, they could not be more different in style. The latter, older version, was an anime-inspired action series that dipped its toe in both cartoonish farce and intense drama. Years after being canceled, the series was reinvented as Teen Titans Go!, an off-the-wall comedy that thrived on both low-brow and self-aware jokes. The response was mixed, to say the least. Some fans were amused by how unabashedly ridiculous it was while others were disgusted that the characters they loved were brought back for such juvenility. Now, this crossover flick aims to bring the two camps together in a cross-dimensional adventure that honors both versions of this crime-fighting team.
The story begins with the current Teen Titans foiling a bank robbery in typically farcical fashion. During the battle, however, Raven’s monstrous side begins to rear its ugly head. What none of the heroes realize is that this event precedes the return of Raven’s demonic yet unimposing father Trigon, who secretly wants to absorb his daughter’s power to reawaken his more threatening counterpart from a parallel dimension. To force Raven to unleash her power, the villains pit the goofy Titans against the taller, more intense versions of themselves. If these two teams fail to overcome their differences, then the entire multiverse will be destroyed in a fiery apocalypse.
From that wacky premise, the filmmakers fashion a fairly fun movie. Much of that has to do with the characters. Both sets of heroes serve as well-realized renditions of the Titans, with the hyperactive Go! versions clearly differentiated from the 2003 originals. Despite this, each rendition feels unmistakable as the same character, like two sides of the same coin. Of course, in addition to the writers, credit must also be given to the voice actors. Scott Menville (Robin), Hynden Walch (Starfire), Khary Payton (Cyborg), Tara Strong (Raven), and Greg Cipes (Beast Boy) are all very adept at portraying these characters at this point, and it shows in their performances. Through subtle shifts in their voices, they are able to distinguish the youthful, over-the-top energy of the Go! group with the more nuanced maturity of the old team while remaining recognizable as variations on the same characters. Also deserving of praise is Kevin Michael Richardson, who plays Trigon as both a satanic monster and a cutesy dad. This dichotomy makes the villains a hilarious sight to behold whenever they are onscreen.
Despite how well the characters are established, you should not go into Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans expecting them to have equal treatment. From the start, it is made clear that the Go! versions of the Titans are the primary protagonists. The 2003 heroes are prominent players in the adventure, but the narrative mainly revolves around their kid-friendly counterparts. As a result, much of the emotional depth that the old show brought to its heroes is ignored, with some of the most significant events only casually mentioned as if they were just another day at the office. The only exception to this is Raven; the guidance offered by her more experienced self regarding her inner demons makes for some surprisingly poignant character moments. Apart from this, most of the interactions are played for laughs. Compare that to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This is also a high-octane, dimension-hopping tale of two characters, but it also offers a substantive study of its two Spider-Men, Peter Parker and Miles Morales. The prevalence of the comedy does not negate the pathos or depth of the protagonists. This flick, on the other hand, places all of its eggs in the humor basket. This is not inherently a bad thing, but it does cause the story to feel shallower than it probably should.
Rather than exploring the fundamental similarities and differences of its characters, the movie devotes itself entirely to surface-level humor. Granted, most of the jokes are good for a chuckle. However, the majority of them revolve around how the new Titans’ silliness and idiocy contrast with the old Titans’ seriousness and competence. Although these are somewhat amusing at first, they eventually grow stale due to their obviousness. These on-the-nose jabs have been made numerous times already, both by fans and by the creators themselves. It certainly does not help that such cracks are repeated multiple times. By the end, you will likely be sick of them, especially since they seem to miss the point of the old show. The 2003 Teen Titans series dabbled in both comedy and drama. One episode might be an off-the-wall trek through Mad Mod’s hypnosis school while another might focus on Cyborg struggling to better himself even though his limitations are seemingly built into his robotic body. To simply label that version of the team as “the serious one” cheapens the characters and contributes to the aforementioned shallowness.
Thankfully, though, enough of the humor on display works that the hits ultimately outweigh the misses. There is a certain charm to how random some of these scenarios are, especially when the older Titans are used as foils for the ridiculousness. The new team will indulge in the crazy sight gags and plot twists without batting an eye while the older team will marvel at whatever insanity they just witnessed. In addition, the flick moves at such a frantic pace that you likely won’t have time to dwell on the jokes that don’t work.
This frenetic style is complemented by the sound and visuals. Though never short of vibrant colors and eye-catching effects, the film maintains the Flash animation of Teen Titans Go!, which sadly means that the characters move in the same way as many cartoons nowadays. This also causes the direction, particularly during the action scenes, to lose the anime flair that Glen Murakami brought to the table in the original show. Thankfully, the movie makes up for this by leaning into a slapstick approach, with deliberately flashy attacks being quick, sudden, and entertaining. Similarly, in place of the heroic tunes of yesteryear, the soundtrack here is peppy and electronically influenced, akin to what one might hear at a dance party. Admittedly, these aesthetic elements may become grating to some. For the ridiculousness on offer, however, they could not be more appropriate.
Overall, Teen Titans Go! Vs. Teen Titans mostly delivers on what it promises. It is a fairly enjoyable ride that should prove exhilarating for kids and amusing for adults. Despite faltering in its character growth, it boasts plenty of rapidly-paced humor, energetic action, and accomplished performances. These elements are ultimately enough to make this high-flying adventure worth a watch.